A legislative package that would boost funding for wastewater treatment plant upgrades and Bay-related education efforts, as well as step up restoration efforts throughout the watershed was introduced by Bay region senators in April.
Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes called the five-bill package a “blueprint for the Bay’s future” which would increase the federal commitment to the 20-year-old cleanup effort. “While this year marks the 20th anniversary of the historic Chesapeake Bay agreement that launched the historic federal-state Bay cleanup effort, the job of restoring the Bay to levels of quality and productivity that existed decades ago is far from complete,” Sarbanes said.
“We cannot squander the investments we have made in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “The Bay is living and dynamic, and we must bring a continued federal commitment to our efforts to protect it. This blueprint for the Bay will help achieve our efforts.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and Sens. John Warner and George Allen of Virginia joined Sarbanes in introducing the legislation. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter supported two of the bills.
Many consider increased federal support critical if the Bay Program is to clean up the estuary and meet the other commitments of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. The Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the three Bay states, recently estimated it would cost more than $18 billion between now and the end of the century to meet the goals of the agreement.
“Since the Bay Program’s inception, the federal government has been a strong partner, providing approximately 18 percent of the funds needed,” said Virginia Del. Robert Bloxom, the commission’s chairman. “For the federal government to maintain its level of support in the face of rising costs to attain our [Chesapeake 2000 agreement] objectives, it will need to triple its investment. Senator Sarbanes’ five-bill package puts the federal government soundly on this track.”
The commission’s analysis found that, overall, the region faced a deficit of nearly $13 billion based on current state and federal levels of Bay-related spending. The largest shortfall was for cleaning up the Bay’s water quality, which alone is estimated to cost about $11.5 billion.
One of the bills would create a grant program to help wastewater treatment plants in the watershed upgrade to state-of-the-art pollution control technology. It would pay up to 55 percent of the cost for local communities that install the most effective nutrient control technology at their plants.
“This proven technology will help these plants significantly reduce nitrogen pollution—up to 46 million pounds per year or almost 40 percent of the total nitrogen reduction needed to help save the Bay,” said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which helped to develop the bill.
Most of the bills were introduced in the last session of Congress. Some were never acted upon; others were nearly enacted before the the session ended.
If approved, the bills provide Congress with the authorization to spend money on the new programs. However, actual appropriations would still require separate action by Congress each year.
The five bill package includes:
- The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Removal Assistance Act. This would establish a federal grant program in the six-state Chesapeake watershed for wastewater treatment plants that upgrade to state-of-the-art nutrient removal technology. The 300 major wastewater treatment plants in the watershed contribute about 60 million pounds of nitrogen a year to the Bay, or one-fifth of the total. If all were to upgrade to state-of-the-art technology, it would remove 46 million pounds of nitrogen, or more than two-fifths of what’s needed to meet the Bay Program’s new 110-million-pound reduction goal. The bill would authorize Congress to spend $660 million over a five-year period.
- Reauthorization of the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Restoration Protection Program. This would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to continue providing design and construction assistance to state and local authorities for environmental restoration in the Bay. To date, the Corps has constructed or approved $9.3 million in projects, including oyster restoration projects in Virginia, shoreline protection and wetland/ sewage treatment projects at Smith Island in Maryland and the upgrade of the Scranton Wastewater Treatment Plant in Pennsylvania. Those projects have nearly exhausted the program’s current $10 million authorization. The new legislation would increase the program’s authorization from $10 million to $30 million. It also establishes a new small grants program for local governments and nonprofit organizations to carry out small-scale restoration projects in the Bay watershed.
- The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Education Pilot Program Act. This legislation establishes a pilot program to make grants to elementary and secondary schools, school districts and nonprofit environmental education organizations in the six-state watershed to support teacher training, curriculum development, classroom education and meaningful Bay or stream outdoor experiences. It authorizes Congress to spend $6 million over the next three years, and would require a 50 percent non-federal match.
- The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forestry Act. This legislation codifies the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. Forest Service in the Bay restoration effort. It strengthens existing coordination, technical assistance, forest resource assessment and planning efforts, and authorizes a small watershed grants program to support local agencies, watershed associations and citizen groups in conducting on-the-ground conservation projects. It also establishes a regional applied forestry research and training program to enhance urban, suburban and rural forests in the watershed.
- The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education, Training and Restoration Act. This bill would enhance the authority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office to address living resource restoration, education and training goals, and commitments of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. It would codify the Bay Watershed Education and Training (or B-WET) Program and establish an aquaculture education program to assist with oyster and blue crab hatchery production. It would establish an Internet-based Coastal Predictions Center for the Bay to better coordinate and organize the data collected by federal, state and local government agencies and academic institutions, such as information on weather, tides, current circulation, climate, land use, coastal environmental quality, aquatic living resources and habitat conditions.